Sunday, 31 July 2022

Day for Night... The Appointment (1981), BFI Blu-ray, Flipside 44 Out Now!


As you will know, BFI Flipside is dedicated to rediscovering works from the margins of British film culture and to enable a re-evaluation of the otherwise over-looked or the under-valued. A quick look at IMDB shows this film with a middling aggregate score but this newly remastered edition – derived from the best available Standard Definition source materials – gives us all a chance to watch it in the best possible quality.


It's not just armchair critics who have been ambivalent to the film as it was not only deprived of a full TV release at the time of release it also failed to provide a platform for its director, Lindsey C. Vickers, to make more films. This, as he says now, is very hard to accept let alone credit as The Appointment is a very classy debut with strong performances and a film that builds and sustains a considerable amount of tension and unease. It is also a film that has a clear agenda outside of its genre in that it addresses the relationship between the members of the family involved.


In the excellent commentary conducted by Flipside supremo Vic Pratt with the writer/director, Vickers points out that it is the breakdown of the father/daughter connection that is really the issue and this is something well expressed in the drama, something clearly close to his heart.


Edward Woodward is clearly your man for this gig, he is so good at expressing forceful masculine certainty with stabs of realisation gradually eating away at his confidence. He’s an alpha male with heart here but a complacent one, caught up in the importance of his routines and discipline. He infantilises his talented daughter Joanne (Samantha Weysom) and finds it hard to relate to her maturing personality, possibly because she’s asking him for more commitment than his schedule – for him and her – allows.


Seeing and understanding all of this is mother and wife Dianna played by the wonderful Jane Merrow who Vickers was able to cast during one of her visits to the UK form the US where she was based for a long time. Merrow is another class act – one of the faces of the era – who can emote with such skill and is able to connect the audience with a grounded view of this supernatural drama.


The film starts with an enigmatic taster as, some years earlier, two schoolgirls carrying violins walk home from school and when one takes a spooky short cut, the tension mounts until she is violently pulled from the path by unseen force. Vickers plays this down as a commercially required overture but its importance becomes clearer as events play out.


We switch to three years later by which time the short cut has been fenced off and the drama is all about more seemingly prosaic matters. Vickers shows real skill in not revealing any clear “evidence” of supernatural issues, playing on our default engagement with the narrative of normality, gradually dropping hints and accelerating the unease like a practiced genre specialist.


So it is that Father Ian being called away on urgent business opens a whole uncanny can of worms as it means that he’ll miss Joanne’s big violin performance. He has his reasons but she can’t see it and clearly this means more to her… tempers are frayed but Ian can’t back down.


The family goes to bed and counting down the hours to his early start and the long drive through Snowdonia to his meeting, Ian experiences strange and vivid dreams. He’s not alone as Jane shares the same dreams… there’s the drive, a group of vicious dogs and increasing foreboding. It’s a long night and Vickers succeeds in even makes the viewer uncertain of the actuality.


The longest night is followed by just another day… or is it?


The art of this kind of film is in suspending disbelief but also persuading us the reality is going to take over at some point. Does that relief of normality come? It’s definitely one for you to find out, no spoilers although I will say that there’s one stunning visual event which I won’t reveal but it’s the kind of idea you could easily see forming the heart of the whole story: an horrific and memorable moment that stays with you.


But that’s the case for the whole film, a salutary take of the potential for familial estrangement, the consequences of which can be equally devastating with or without dark forces.


The film comes with a generous bundle of extras including: 

·         Newly recorded audio commentary by director Lindsey Vickers

·         Vickers on Vickers (2021, 41 mins): the director looks back on his life and career

·         Another Outing (2021, 16 mins): Jane Merrow recalls co-starring in The Appointment

·         Appointments Shared (2022, 7 mins): Lindsey and Jan Vickers remember the making of the ‘haunted film’

·         Framing The Appointment (2022, 19 mins): Lindsey Vickers recalls making the film

·         Remembering The Appointment (2022, 10 mins): assistant director Gregory Dark shares his recollections of the film

·         The Lake (1978, 33 mins): Lindsey Vickers’ eerie short finds young lovers choosing to picnic at a spot haunted by echoes of a violent event

·         Newly recorded audio commentary on The Lake by Lindsey Vickers

·         Splashing Around (2020, 18 mins): actor Julie Peasgood on making The Lake

·         Galleries featuring annotated scripts, storyboards, images and production materials


The Lake is also a creepy mini classic which I saw screened at the BFI a couple of years back. More excellent atmospherics and eerie build up from Vickers and, whilst he had a successful career elsewhere in film, it is a real shame he wasn’t able to make more features.


It’s a limited edition presented on Blu-ray in Standard Definition (Limited to 4,000 copies) and the first pressing only comes with an excellent Illustrated booklet featuring new writing on the film by Vic Pratt and contributions from William Fowler, Jon Dear and Lindsey Vickers.


So, order as soon as you can, direct from BFI and you won't be disappointed although you may well be shaken and intrigued… it’s an intense ride!

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